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'Grandfather Of Conservation' Passes Away At 87

The "grandfather of conservation" Dr. Ian Player has passed away at the age of 87. Among his contributions, Dr. Player is known for his success in bringing the white rhino back from the brink of extinction.

Operation Rhino

In 1895 when the Umfolozi Reserve was begun, it was the last refuge for white rhinos. They had been wiped out by hunting everywhere else in South Africa. Dr. Player led the crusade to save the species by re-locating rhino to other unpopulated areas (much as Kruger is attempting to do now).

Initial method of rhino transport included darting the rhino and following on horseback until it stopped, then jumping down from the horse to quickly manhandle it into a crate for transport. There was a "considerable death toll", as it took trial and error to devise the best cocktail of tranquilizer and the best method of capture and transport.

In The White Rhino Saga, Dr. Player refers to it as "a series of derring-do with a fair roll call of human and animal casualties." But eventually the technology worked and the relocation of the rhinos began.

Dr. Player taking measurements during a relocation. (Photo: Dr Ian Player archives)

By the end of 1962, 18 white rhinos had been successfully captured and shipped off to game reserves across Kwazu Natal. Then other "orders" for them started to come in from Kruger and Rhodesia, as well as various zoos. By 1965 the IUCN declared the white rhinos "saved".

Player then went on "sales calls" so to speak, offering to sell up to 20 rhino at a time to safaris, zoos and conservation parks.

By the end of 1970 a total of 400 rhinos had been captured and released into their former habitats, and 150 had been sold to zoos. There were 2000 in Umfolozi and Hluhluwe Reserves.

Operation Rhino 2?

In a 2012 interview done by Rachel Lang, she asked Dr. Player: Could an Operation Rhino 2 be carried out today?

Dr. Player said "It's a different world now. The most important thing we have to do is to save the rhinos that still exist, and that can only be done in two ways. There have to be more rangers in the field, and they must be supplied with good intelligence because it's like fighting a war. You can't win a war unless you've got troops and you're getting information. And that leads to the second element we need. There have been a number of meetings, ‘rhino summits' if you like, but we need top businessmen to be there too so that we can debate the best way forward."

Dr. Player paved the way of present day re-locations, and set the precedent for re-population efforts. He saved the rhinos once. And as he said "History should be our teacher and that's the same with the environment." Following in his footsteps, we can do it again.

Source: Operation Rhino info from Against Extinction: a story of conservation by William Adams.